One thing is certain: sexuality, including sexual potency, is nature’s great engine, and reproduction constitutes the natural basis of our existence – there is no escaping and no denying it. So respect for sexuality, but also respect for the problems of the impotent man is called for. Many people cannot summon up that respect. The hatred for men who are unable to make full use of their genitalia has existed since time immemorial. Obviously little can be done about it, or about erectile dysfunction and infertility, since in many cases problems cannot be solved.

Growing old is often accompanied by an unpleasant physical decline, and that will probably always remain so. But in the twenty – first century we live in a society in which the healthy, vital, young, beautiful and potent body has become the yardstick. In fact the ideal of the body as ‘the eternally and efficiently functioning machine’ is based on suppression, not only in contemporary technological and information-based culture, but by ourselves, the suppression of the undeniable reality that each of us inhabits a body that is transient, that can break down, that can get ill and one day will die. So for many men it is often a great relief if for a change they can speak freely about feelings of impotence, fear of failure or apparent resignation – not only resignation about impotence but ultimate resignation in the face of death.

Besides the reproductive function of sex, with its help we human beings can reinforce our sense of ‘togetherness’. Sexual relations can revitalize us, and can bring relief where there are tensions. It is an excellent form of relaxation and recreation and apart from that it is better than a sleeping pill. Whether we actually experience it like that in practice, is another matter. More than many people think, our sexual experience is linked to an involvement, which may or may not be conscious, with the purpose of our existence; with being satisfied or otherwise with the role we are playing in this world and with the love with which we may or may not know or feel we are connected. More than we think, our sexual behaviour obeys obscure powers of which we are only vaguely, if at all, aware.

The Nobel Prize-winning Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz described in The Double Flame his view of the relationship between sexuality, reproduction, eroticism and love. The red of the flame stands, he believes, for the primitive instinct of sexuality, which we share with animals. Further inside the flame burns yellow: the play aspect of eroti­cism, which in every culture gives eroticism a human face. The centre of the flame burns transparent blue: there sexuality and eroticism are purified into the essentially human capacity for love.

According to Paz eroticism can free itself from sexuality. Flames change, they flicker. In this way eroticism diverts sexuality from its evolutionary goal, reproduction. But that change, that separation, is paradoxically at the same time a return. The human couple making love find their way to the sea of sex and are rocked by the endless, gentle waves. There they rediscover the innocence of wild animals. ‘Eroticism is a rhythm’ concludes Paz, ‘one of its chords is separation, the other is return, the journey back to reconciled nature. The erotic beyond is here, and it is this very moment. All women and all men have lived such moments; it is our share of paradise.’